August 9, 2016, 7:56 am
While the top spot in the Western Conference seems to be fully controlled by the Golden State Warriors, the following spots seem to be relatively wide open. While the Clippers, Spurs, and Thunder have been among top teams in the conference, the landscape looks to be potentially shifting in the near future, possibly even as soon as next season.
That also may not be the case. The Clippers still have plenty of talent, the Thunder are young and still have Russell Westbrook to try to build around, and the Spurs haven’t been bad nearly two decades. So the idea of these teams remaining at or near the top of the standings in the next season isn’t unrealistic.
While I’m always afraid to bet against Russell Westbrook, the loss of Kevin Durant will likely end the Thunder’s chances to get the second spot, but anything is possible, and I still expect them to be a very competitive team. With that said, I see three obvious favorites to land the second spot:
3. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs were incredible last season. They were the second best regular-season team in the NBA in a year where the best team won 73 games. LaMarcus Aldridge got more comfortable as the season went on, and Kawhi Leonard continued to show that he is one the best players in the NBA.
Going forward, San Antonio could see Leonard and Aldridge get even more comfortable together and become one of the most dominant duos in the league. Pau Gasol should help facilitate the offense and soften the blow of losing Tim Duncan, and bench players like Kyle Anderson and Patty Mills have been able to carve out useful roles for the team.
The biggest reason for optimism is likely Danny Green. His field goal percentage and three point percentage were both far lower than they had ever been during his five years under Gregg Popovich. He’s still just 29 years old, and his defense was stellar last season, so it isn’t probably isn’t related to age or injury.
His three point shooting was clearly an issue last season, and the fact that it was his only issue would lead you to believe that it could be a mechanical and therefore correctable during the off-season. He still shot 44.8% on two-point attempts, which is not too far from his career average, and both his assist percentage and turnover percentage were right around his normal level. His usage was down, but that could be due to his shooting struggles and the fact that much of the offense went through Leonard and Aldridge last season.
I would expect him to be at least average offensively next season, which would be a huge boost for their team.
There will be struggles for this team next season. They will need to find a way to anchor their defense without Tim Duncan. The opposing team’s O-Rating jumped by about 4 points when Duncan wasn’t on the court last season, and Pau Gasol will not be able to fill that gap on his own. He should be a very good replacement for Duncan in many respects, and many advanced metrics point to Gasol being a valuable defensive player last season. Opposing teams had an O-rating that was 1.3 points higher when Gasol was sitting, and his Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 3 is very high, but he won’t be the defensive presence that Duncan was.
Beyond that, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will be another year older, and while the Spurs likely have enough young talent for this team to go through a relatively painless transition towards a new core, this could till provide a bump in the road big enough to keep them out of the top two in an incredibly competitive conference.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan have shown for the last few years that together they can form one of the core’s in the league. All three are still young enough to play at a high level, and both J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers took steps forward last season. If they’re healthy, this group has everything they would need to give any team trouble next season.
That seems to be a bigger question than it’s ever been. Even though Griffin returned last season, he had to end his season early with a quad injury, and that will be a big concern going forward. This team has very little depth beyond their main pieces, so injuries will be a bigger blow for them than most. Chris Paul injured his hand during the playoffs, and while that injury is far less concerning, he’s already 31 years old, and his usage of 27.1% last season was by far the highest it’s ever been in Los Angeles.
Jordan has been fairly healthy during his career, but he showed during the end of the team’s playoff series with Portland that he cannot get the job done on his own(it was actually hard to watch at times). The Clippers can survive injuries and remain near the top of the conference, but to be the second team next year they will have to stay healthy, and will likely want to address their depth issues as soon as possible.
1. Utah Jazz
I know that this seems overly optimistic, but the Jazz have so much going for them.
The Point Guard position was a huge black hole for the team last season. Trey Burke and Raul Neto both had a Box Plus Minus of -2 or less, and while Shelvin Mack was a huge upgrade for them, his BPM was -0.3 with the Jazz last season.
George Hill will be a huge upgrade on both ends of the floor. It’s hard to understate how much better he will be than any option they had last season, and for an offense that ranked 16th last season without a true starting point guard, he will be a huge boost. His ability to run an offense and space the floor will be much appreciated.
Beyond that, the Jazz were hit pretty hard with injuries last season. Gobert and Favors missed 41 games combined, and Dante Exum missed the entire season. This is unfortunately what likely caused the team to miss the playoffs last season. Having all of their players healthy should make their top 10 defense even stronger.
The Jazz also have amazing depth at every position. They have at least one player that can start at every position, and have at least one high quality backup for every starter. Their bench should rank among the best in the league, and they should also be able to weather injuries better than most teams.
Quin Snyder has shown that he is one of the best young coaches in the league, and considering how young Utah’s core is, they still have a ton of room to grow. Adding veterans like Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw should help guide this team toward a very successful season. Don’t be surprised if the Jazz are one of the more dominant teams in the league next year.
June 5, 2020, 2:01 pmJonathan IsaacPF, Orlando Magic
Jonathan Isaac (left knee) has been running on a low-impact treadmill for about two weeks now.
Isaac went down at the beginning of January with what was thought to be a season-ending injury, involving a posterior lateral corner injury and a medial bone contusion — i.e., a severe sprain and a bone bruise. At that point he was set to be re-evaluated in 8-10 weeks, and while we're well past those timelines, Isaac does appear to be moving along in his recovery. It remains to be seen if he'll be available for Orlando's postseason chase or if the Magic would even bother risking his bright future at this point.
Source: The Athletic
June 5, 2020, 1:26 pmEvan FournierSF, Orlando Magic
Evan Fournier (right UCL sprain) is fully recovered.
Fournier was supposed to be looking at an "extended absence" when he first went down in March, slamming the brakes on what was a top-70 season. The fact that he's healthy again will be a huge lift to the Magic, who currently occupy the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. They only need to hold off the Wizards to earn a playoff berth but also have an outside chance at jumping over the Nets to take the seventh spot.
Source: The Athletic
June 5, 2020, 1:21 pmKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant (Achilles) will not return to the court this season, per Anthony Puccio.
There were whispers that KD might be able to get back on the floor given the extra few months of the season, and especially after he's started to appear in workout videos, but it has been repeatedly speculated that Durant would not return during the 2019-20 season under any circumstance. There's no sense in having Durant shake off the rust in an intense setting, even if he may be capable of contributing right now. Brooklyn's eyes are rightfully on next season as far as serious contention goes.
Source: Anthony Puccio on Twitter
June 4, 2020, 2:00 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
The Board of Governors has approved the NBA's 22-team format to restart the 2019-20 season.
The vote was 29-1. It was widely expected that the format would get the go-ahead, even though more than one team didn't fully support the proposed plan, and the NBA has at least settled on what the season will look like once it's able to resume. They have also set the draft lottery for August 25 and the draft for October 15. The biggest hurdles remain anything that has to do with COVID-19, and to this point the league has yet to say anything about those challenges, but there is plenty of forward momentum these days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 9:23 pmEnes KanterC, Boston Celtics
Sean Deveney reported that "multiple agents say not all players are on board with an NBA return".
One agent said, "Most of the guys are excited, fired up, they want to get back out there. Those are 95 percent of the conversations I have had". There are players that feel the money is not worth putting themselves and their families at risk. Enes Kanter weighed in on the topic, saying "there are some other team's players out there, that they don't want to play. They're like, 'It's just a game. I'm not going to risk my life". It is likely that the high-profile players will still play, but it looks like some role players may not be willing to take the risk to join their team when the NBA season resumes.
June 3, 2020, 4:39 pmDerrick RosePG, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.
Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.
Source: James Edwards III
June 3, 2020, 11:41 amZion WilliamsonPF, New Orleans Pelicans
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.
This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 11:36 amLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.
This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 10:02 pmCorey BrewerSF, Sacramento Kings
Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.
Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.
June 2, 2020, 9:47 pmDeMarcus CousinsC, Los Angeles Lakers
Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.
This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.